Cardio is one of the best ways to lose weight. However, not all cardio exercises are the same. Some of them are actually more beneficial for weight loss than others.
If you are looking to lose weight, and want to improve your overall health, then check out the 5 best cardio exercises for weight loss:
Running is the most convenient and easiest cardio exercise to perform. Whether you are running in place, jogging, sprinting, or running marathons, running has a massive impact on burning calories and dropping those unwanted pounds.
For weight loss, running is a great way to plan an effective cardio workout. Using measurements like time, distance and speed, you will be able to burn maximum calories in order to reach your weight loss goals.
It’s important to note that walking isn’t as effective as running for weight loss. In fact, research shows us that runners can lose up to 90% more weight running the same distances as walkers. Walking has its benefits, but for maximum weight loss, running is superior. (1)
Jogging is also effective, but it’s not going to burn as many calories as running at a faster pace. For example, a 40 minute jog will burn about 340 calories for a 160 pound person. If that same person ran faster than a jogging pace, like a 10 minute mile pace, they would burn nearly 500 calories in that same time span. (2)
Looking deeper and we will find that a 185 pound person can burn 266 calories jogging for 30 minutes. However, if that same person picks up the pace to 6mph he/she will burn up to 440 calories during that same span. And, at a pace of 10mph, he/she will burn nearly 700 calories over a 30 minute run.(3)
Swimming is an excellent cardio exercise for weight loss and other health benefits like reducing stress on your joints, improving cardiovascular health, lowering bad LDL, and toning your muscles.
Although not as convenient as running, since you will need access to a pool, swimming is a better overall total body workout. Every kick or stroke in swimming is like a mini resistance training workout due to water being denser than air and providing resistance.
A person weighing 150-160 pounds can burn an estimated 500 calories per hour of swimming. However, this is typically swimming laps using the front stroke. Not all swimming strokes are the same when it comes to caloric expenditure. A person of the same weight range can actually burn up to 900 calories per hour by using the breaststroke.(4)
Also, each stroke tends to work different muscles groups, which can aid in further toning of those targeted muscles.
3. Cross Country Skiing
Just like swimming, cross country skiing is one of the best total body workouts you can do. Not only does it have a huge impact on your cardio health, it also blasts your muscles. Like running, cross country skiing can have a higher caloric expenditure depending on how fast you go. (5)
For example, a 150 pound person can bust out the following calories per hour at the following speeds:
- About 500 calories at 2.5 mph
- About 600 calories at 4 to 5 mph
- About 650 calories at 5 to 8 mph
These numbers listed above are for the standard, flat or classic cross country skiing. If you want to really crank up the intensity and calories burned then try mountaineering, which requires you to also hike, climb or create your own ski trails. Mountaineering can burn over 1,100 calories per hour.
On a side note, some elliptical machines can mimic cross country skiing. Additionally, they are highly recommended for those who have joint issues or don’t have access to snow packed areas to ski.
Also, elliptical machines have computer displays to show you how fast you are going. That same 150 pound person from the example above could burn off at least 750 calories per hour at a high level of intensity.
Bicycling, or cycling, is one of the most convenient and enjoyable ways to perform cardio. Not only can you ride a bike outdoors, and enjoy the scenery, but you can also ride a stationary, recumbent or spin bike indoors. Cycling is easier on the joints than running, but does require access to a bike.
Cycling is also a healthy option for transportation. One massive study discovered that men who rode their bike to work instead of driving, lost an average of 11 pounds. Women lost an average of 9.7 pounds. This is just food for thought! (6)
For those looking to lose weight, a 185 pound person can lose nearly 700 calories in an hour at a speed of 12 to 13.9mph. If he/she raised the speed up to 14-15.9mph, up to 900 calories can be burned off over a one hour period. (7)
With indoor bikes, most machines will have computer monitors that tell you your speed, distance traveled and calories burned. For those of you looking to try out a spin class, you can easily burn off 750 calories in an hour. (8)
Using a rowing machine to perform your cardio is a great way to not only lose weight and body fat, but to also get a solid total body workout. There’s really no opportunity to relax during the rowing motion as one part of your body or another will be constantly engaged, contracted or burning.
Rowing does require access to a machine. But, don’t worry, most gyms have these machines readily available. For a 155 pound person, rowing for 1 hour at a moderate intensity level will help them to burn off roughly 520 calories. Rowing for 1 hour at a high level of intensity will see a caloric expenditure of at least 630 calories for that same person. (9)
To improve your overall cardio health, and to ward off cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends the following cardio requirements: (10)
- 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio activities per week.
- 75 minutes of high intensity cardio activities per week.
For lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, the AHA recommends at least 40 minutes of moderate to high intensity cardio activities at a frequency of 3 to 4 times a week.
For weight loss, the ACSM recommends up toward 250 minutes of moderate intensity cardio per week. Keep in mind, this is for steady state cardio and not HIIT. (11)
HIIT for Weight Loss
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is an incredible way to boost up the overall intensity of your cardio workouts and lose weight. HIIT is a rotation of high intensity intervals with low intensity intervals. For example, swimming one lap at a leisurely pace and then swimming the next lap as fast as possible. Or, sprinting for 30 seconds and then walking for 60 seconds.
A HIIT session is typically performed for a duration of 15 to 30 minutes depending on one’s level of fitness. Research shows that 15 minutes of HIIT cardio can burn more calories than jogging for an hour. (12)
Keep in mind, the intervals of high intensity will require you to go “all out.” This typically translates into 90% to 100% of your maximum effort. The low intensity intervals should be at about 50% of maximum effort to catch your breath and lower your heart rate before hitting the high intensity again.
Another awesome reason why you should consider or work your way up to HIIT training is that you will continue to burn calories even after your workout is over. Current evidence shows that the body can burn 6% to 15% more calories after a HIIT cardio workout than a steady state cardio workout. (13)
The term “steady state” just means performing a cardio activity at the same pace or rate for the entire duration. For example, jogging at 2.5 mph for an entire 30 minute run.
It’s recommended that you only perform HIIT cardio training 2-3 days per week and mix in some steady state cardio in-between HIIT days. This will allow your body enough time to recover from the intense HIIT sessions.
Keep in mind, for maximum weight loss success, these cardio exercises should be performed in conjunction with a sound diet and resistance training program. Additionally, before you participate in any of these cardio exercises, check with your medical professional to ensure these are safe for you. Weighing more or less than the listed weight, will have an impact on the amount of calories you burn during your cardio exercise.